Last night I watched the most expensive Finnish horror movie ever made. If you're not sure how to react to that, imagine how I feel.
Dark Floors stems directly from the victory of the flamboyant Finnish metal band Lordi in the Eurovision Song Contest. Surfing a (smallish) wave of international fame the rockers got enough financial backing for a fairly modest production, in which they appear as ghostly/monstrous entities. A writer credit goes to Mr. Lordi, the make-up and prosthesis expert who fronts the band.
The film was shot entirely in Finland with ordinary folk playing extras. Amputees were asked to volunteer to portray zombies, possibly the first such casting decision since Michael Winner's The Sentinel. On imdb the directing credits include the name Alan Smithee. Oh, and it was written in Finnish then translated into English to give the movie an international market.
If this sounds like a truly terrible, misguided, Eurotrash vanity project, well... Maybe it is. A bit. Dark Floors certainly isn't a brilliant horror film. But nor is it the colossal turkey one might expect. If it has flaws it's not the presence of four hairy rockers in outlandish costumes. No, it's just that Dark Floors resembles a lot of other low budget stalk 'n' slash flicks in which a group of disparate characters are trapped in a big building. This is just the first one to feature a Nordic version of Kiss.
The film has its virtues. Visually it's not bad at all, at first, when we see Ben (Noah Huntley) having trouble accepting the way the hospital's team are treating his autistic daughter Sarah (a very good performance by Skye Bennett). Ben decides to remove Sarah despite the wishes of her doctor and friendly nurse Emily (Dominique McElligott). The latter follows the pair into the elevator, where they are joined by a security guard and two patients. Predictably enough, the elevator journey is not routine. After bizarre and disturbing incidents the motley band emerge into a hospital that is no longer well-lit and bustling with activity. Yes, we're in a Grotty Building With Lots of Corridors and Flickery Lights. Again.
Thus begins a familiar story involving people saying 'This can't be happening!', 'Let's stick together!', and 'We're going to get out of her!', spiced up with the less familiar 'Ooh, did anybody see where my disabled daughter went off to? In her wheelchair?' (twice). Here be nasty, snarly, screamy things glimpsed through frosted glass that they soon burst through to do menacing stuff. Those ever-inadequate strip lights flicker, people run about, doors are forced, medicine sought, stairways never lead to safety, and Guns Can't Stop Them.
Two things kept me watching. One was that the mostly British cast are rather good. Indeed, the role of the Scruffy Old Bloke Who Knows Something is taken by none other than Ronald Pickup, whose presence pleased me no end. The performances in general are above average and the cast play it straight. And a genuinely interesting ingredient is a time-twisting element that is somehow connected to Sarah's locked-in, frightening reality. I'm glad to say nobody tries to over-explain that's happened or why, but we do get a 'symbolic' ending that suggests a good deal. And yes, the Lordi chaps themselves make slightly naff monsters, but their elaborate prostheses do at least ring the changes on the usual off-the-shelf terrors found in this sort of thing. Put another way, I didn't actually laugh and it's only now, typing this, that I realise Lordi are basically Goth Klingons.
Like Eurovision itself, Dark Floors shouldn't work at all, so perhaps part of its charm is that it works most of the time. It's an unpretentious supernatural shocker that doesn't outstay its welcome and almost makes me want Mr. Lordi to have another go. Almost.